Thursday, February 26, 2015

Dazzle in the Dust

For our 30th wedding anniversary, Rick and I decided to purchase a new bedroom suit.

The day before our new bed was to be delivered, I was cleaning out from under the bed. Let me just say... How do so many dust bunnies (or in this case, full-grown-giant-dust RABBITS) find their way under there? Yuck!

In the midst of pulling out and dusting off the bins and other out-of-sight, out-of-mind items, I came across this rectangular, metal tin box. I didn't remember ever seeing this before, so I opened it and inside was a silver chain watch. I assumed it had been a gift possibly from my sister that somehow got shoved under the bed because she is always giving me jewelry.

When I examined the box and the watch closer, it was made by Brighton, one of my favorite jewelry brands. I immediately took it out of it's case and put it on. I loved it!

The next day was delivery day! I was so excited, I felt like a child on Christmas Eve.

That evening, Rick and I purchased new sheets, a comforter, shams, a bedskirt, king pillows and pillow cases. We brought it all home and decorated our anniversary gift. It was absolutely beautiful!

We had decided that the bedroom suit would be our Valentine's, Anniversary, Mother's Day and Father's Day gifts, and if you know Rick well, he was also trying to squeeze in birthdays and Christmas. We'll see how far that goes.

As Rick was putting the vacuum away from where I had vacuumed up the giant dust rabbits, I said, "Look what I found under the bed as I was cleaning out." I showed him my intriguing find. I told him it must have been a gift that was just misplaced under the bed.  I wish you could have seen his face!

In a very disappointed tone, his exact words were, "That was supposed to be your anniversary present. I actually bought it last October for your birthday, but you had already bought yourself a watch. Then I was saving it for Christmas, but you made a different list, so I was waiting for our anniversary, which we decided on a bed."

Oh my. His hiding place had been discovered. He had forgotten he had placed it under the bed. He was so disappointed, not only about me finding it, but because I also gave credit to someone else instead of him.

Isn't that just the opposite of when we discover something in God's Word - a treasure? God doesn't hide His nuggets of truth from us. He wants us to search, find, and discover His dazzle, His glory, in the every day dust of our lives. But like Rick, he certainly doesn't want anyone else to receive the credit for treasure found.

Finding that sweet, heartfelt gift reminded me that God's Word is loaded with treasure, but we can't discover it if we don't keep the dust off and open it regularly. The Psalmist understood that the proper place to "hide" God's Word was in his heart, not under his bed.

"Your Word have I treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You." (Psalm 119:11 NASB)

My dazzle in the dust was really a blessing in disguise. Now Rick doesn't have to hide it any more from me. I found his gift of love. I searched, and I found a gift I didn't even know existed, and I've been wearing it ever since.

My Pleasure,

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

I Prayed for God's Best for Me

"I found the one my heart loves." (Song of Solomon 3:4)

30 years and counting! The phrase, "I'm married to the love of my life," is an understatement. This incredible human being, my husband, was an answer to a real heartache of a prayer from a 17 year old who was fed up with the "dating game." She was ready for the one God had chosen for her all along.

Through tears in my bed that night, I literally cried out to the Lord to bring into my life, not only the one He wanted me to marry, but for God's choice to be the next and last one I would date.

In a mere two weeks, out of the blue, my best friend at that time said she would introduce me to Rick Shull if I would give her voice lessons. They went to church together, and we were in a Christian singing group together.

I had never met Rick, but had seen him in his driveway playing basketball a few times. He had moved into our neighborhood a couple of years earlier during his senior year, but since he didn't transfer to Airport from Brookland Cayce, rival schools, I had not had the pleasure of meeting him.

A double date was arranged; a blind date for Rick and I, and my friend brought a good friend along as her date. We went to their church for a youth/college January Bible study and then went out for pizza.

The night was amazing. Great company and good conversation, but it did end a little weird. After Rick and I took the other two home, we pulled up in my driveway. We talked for a minute and then he turned and asked me if I wanted him to walk me to the door. No guy had ever asked me that before, so in my "unique spiritual gift of sarcasm" I said, "No thanks. I think I can handle it," and he let me handle it. I got out of the car by myself and went to the door all. by. myself. He drove off leaving me wondering, "Is this the one I prayed for?", but I knew in my heart he was.

I soon discovered he chatted with his best friend, Kenny, and told him he had a great time, but wasn't sure I would go out with him again. Rick told him I was somewhat of a "smart rear." Go figure.

Why did he ask to walk me to the door? I learned later that if you answer "yes" that means you want the guy to kiss you goodnight, but if the answer is "no", you don't want a kiss good night. I sure wish someone had shared that tidbit of info with me before going out with this incredible gentle-man.

Well, he did ask me out again! After dating for five years, not only had my prayer been answered, but my childhood dream of becoming a wife had come true in ways I never imagined.

On February 23, 1985, after my December graduation from the University of SC, we became husband and wife. I hope we have at least 30 more years to grow gracefully older and deeper in love together.

My Pleasure,

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Only One In the Room

It has been an absolute blessing to play and help lead my church family in worship for 29 years. Real worship, with total abandonment - as if God is the only One in the room. That's what I strive for every Sunday, but this morning, I and many others were lifted to a higher plane as we worshiped through music.

For worship to spill out of me, as it did today, I had to abide in Christ, remain in Christ and listen to what He had for me to hear and learn this past week. (John 15)

Here's a little peek into the week I had.

Monday: By preparing a meal for and having our grieving friends, Amy and David Cook, in our home we experienced pure delight. The conversation and joy we shared together was such a gift.

Wednesday: A dresser was delivered to match our new king size bed we purchased for our 30th wedding anniversary. LOVE IT!

Thursday: My daughter and I were able to attend a mother/daughter Bible study designed for the circle of friends and their moms who have been mourning the death of McKinsey Cook, the 20 year old daughter of the grieving parents we hosted on Monday.  One of the moms had given her daughter a Bible for the very first time, and the excitement on her college age daughter's face just filled my heart with incredible joy as she couldn't wait to discover all that is in God's Word.

Friday: Before I finished interviewing two guys who work for Beds and Such for Living Real Magazine articles, I was telling one of them and the owner how wonderful the bed and dresser were that we purchased from them a few weeks ago. Before I left, the owner had set up another delivery of 2 bedside tables to go along with our bedroom set as a gift. Blessed beyond measure!

Saturday: I spent most of the day writing the articles from my interviews and was blown away by their stories of God's grace which affirms once again that I am where God wants me.

Then today-Sunday! On the way to church, I was listening to "I Will Rise" by Chris Tomlin and tears filled my eyes. I was thinking about McKinsey and how perfectly she is worshiping today.

As we were rehearsing the music for the first service, a few people were trickling in early.  My best friend pointed out that the early arrivers were already worshiping with us during our rehearsal.

 As my fingers danced across the black and whites, my heart felt like it would burst. I laid it all down for my God to hear; to somehow return to Him what He had blessed me with during the week.  

The congregational singing of "Sing to the King", "Majesty", "Revelation Song", and "Holy, Holy, Holy" powerfully preluded the choir bringing it all to a climax with Brookland Tabernacle Choir's arrangement of "Saved"!

As I belted out in song and played my heart out, I didn't care who else was watching or listening. For me, it was as if my God was the only One in the room. He's the One who had blessed me beyond measure this week. He's the One who alone has saved me. He's the One who died on the cross for me. He's the One whom my heart adores. 

Dwelling on His surprises, His affirmation, His faithfulness, His mercy, His grace, etc... I couldn't hold it in any longer. Uninhibited praise and pure worship spilled out of my soul, onto the altar of the keys and across my lips. 

"Praise the Lord, O my soul, and all my inmost being praise His holy name." (Psalm 103:1 NIV, emphasis, mine)

My Pleasure,

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

What Shape Is Your Heart In?

Many of you, who know me well, know that I love Ann Voskamp's writings. Her words today, so powerfully crafted, have brought me to my knees and have impressed upon me to share some thoughts of my own in the shadow of hers.

This past weekend, 21 Christians in Egypt were martyred as Islamic Extremists beheaded them. The killers' chilling message to AMERICA was:

 "A Message Signed With Blood To the Nation of the Cross". *(See photos on Ann's blog)

The nation of the cross. They actually identified America as a Christian, cross-shaped nation. Really? A nation, who now, through political correctness, is seeking to distance herself from the shaping of that cross; the cross of Jesus Christ?

For ISIS, the cross is offensive.

For America, the cross provided the path for our very existence.

For ISIS, the cross is what they're fighting against.

For America, the cross has become what we're fighting against as well; from the illiteracy of the Scriptures, the softening of our speech, our non-convicting tone, our tolerance of sin, to the abuse of our freedoms, the recklessness of our responsibilities to one another, our lazy work ethic, selfishness and an ungrateful attitude, as well as our ignorance of our US Constitution and the understanding of why we became a country in the first place. The "shining city on a hill" is quickly losing her flame and the shape of her heart.

How is the Church appearing through all of this? Powerless, apathetic, and heartless.

The HEART of the cross is LOVE. "For God so LOVED the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

Those 21 brave martyrs walked with their heads held high into the presence of God that day, because of their belief in Jesus Christ. They WON! The murderers didn't take their lives. Their lives belonged to God. He gave them eternal life. They are with Him at this very moment!

You know what I love most about the picture of the martyrs kneeling? It's how they are facing away from those who thought they controlled their fate. They weren't kneeling before ISIS, they were kneeling before and towards their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Their heads were up as their hearts bowed low before their King of kings and Lord of lords. No one took their lives. God rescued them, redeemed them, and ushered those brave souls into His glorious presence the instant they breathed their last breath.

"Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (I Corinthians 15:55 NIV)

Our Jesus conquered death on the cross, and the grave through the resurrection!

"But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (I Corinthians 15:57)

Christ's heart took on the shape of the cross. Because of the cross, my heart is being molded and shaped to look like His. If you believe, so is yours.

The cross of LOVE is offensive to those who refuse it.

The cross of LOVE is offensive to those who abuse it.

The cross of LOVE is offensive to those who haven't knelt before it, believed it, been overwhelmed by it, or received grace because of it.

But, for those of us who have believed and received the LOVE of the cross, we have knelt there, died to self there, surrendered our lives there, and have been covered there with His blood; the blood that saves, the blood that paid the price for our sins, the blood that was spilled out so we could live and love as Christ did - with an obedient heart.

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He that loves not, knows not God for God is love." (I John 4:7-8)

LOVE, as God Himself is defined in I John 4:8, is why Jesus came, lived, was crucified, buried, and raised.

LOVE is what the cross was for. God's heart revealed, His Son sacrificed, in the shape of a cross.

Dear Lord Jesus, 

Examine my heart today. I know it has shifted and isn't in the shape it should be.  Please forgive me for wiggling out from under Your divine pressing upon my heart. My heart's desire is to look like Yours, act like Yours, and beat like Yours. I want to know You more so I can love You deeper. With Your cross imprinted on my heart, help me to be brave, in life or death, and to not be ashamed to proclaim You to the nations. Give all Christians, here at home and abroad, a brave heart to be obedient as we testify in Your name. Give us cross-shaped hearts that beat with Your mercy, Your grace, and Your LOVE.  
                                                  In the powerful name of Jesus, I lay my heart before You, Amen.

My Pleasure,

*To read Ann's blog, go to 

Remembering McKinsey: Piecing It All Together - Part 2

When I received the call on Monday, February 2, 2015 that McKinsey had been killed in a car wreck, the words didn't seem real at first. It took several minutes for me to begin processing the horrific news.

I immediately went into my "taking care of others and details" mode. That's what I do. My husband and I needed to get to our daughter. She was coaching her cheer team and we needed to get to her before social media did. (Word travels much faster than it use to.)

Rick and I drove to the gym and had her meet us in the parking lot. When she saw us, she said she thought something had happened to her Mimi, but instead was totally shocked at the news we had arrived with.

Madison did not immediately burst into tears. She very calmly looked at me in the car and said, "At least she knew Jesus, mom." Then, a few moments later, after the news began to sink in, she burst into tears as we drove to a friend's house where her friends were gathering.

That is how our February began. A vicious circumstance beyond our control had rocked our world. All we could do was hold on to our faith.

Faith in Christ is the only piece that truly completes our out-of-control puzzle of life.

Faith for some is very strong and unwavering. Faith for others is very tender and not as strong. For all levels of faith, though, grief is very real and very necessary. How well we understand the sovereignty of God Almighty determines how we respond to our grief. It's in the times of being hard-pressed that what we truly believe bubbles to the surface and brings us incredible comfort.

So how does one develop a strong, unwavering faith?

Faith is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it becomes. The more weight you lift, the more muscle you build. The more we exercise our faith, the stronger our faith becomes.

"That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know Whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day." (2 Timothy 1:12 NIV)

Here's what I know: I know Who's in control. Jesus. I know Whom I serve, love and live for. Jesus. I know without a doubt that my Jesus knew what was coming down the pike that day, and He was already there to embrace McKinsey with His tender love and care as He escorted her into His eternal glory.

I also know that not only was He there for McKinsey, but Jesus was already there waiting for us to run into His arms of comfort, ready to catch our tears, pick us up, console us, and not leave us dangling in despair.

He was there and is here, at this very moment, with His deep love and strength and grace to sustain us through our insurmountable grief, hurt and pain. He is here to walk through the terrific storms in life and get us safely to the other side of our wounded, broken hearts. As we move through the confusion, doubt and the unknowns in life, we can know Jesus more intimately, developing a much stronger faith as we continue to grow up in our salvation, constantly moving to the next high place on our spiritual journey.

Here's what I don't know. I don't know the number of pages in my earthly book of life or yours, but I do know that God knows. ( Psalm 139) He's the Author and the Creator of life. He knows the number of my days and yours, and the number of heartbeats He has counted for you and for me. My job is to live life to the full, full of all that Christ is and has for me on this earth, and to proclaim Him with every breath I take in and breathe out. He is LIFE.

God uses the good, the bad, and the ugly to build the character of Christ in us and to make us stronger in Him. Our faith drives our hope, and our Hope is in Christ. We live by faith.

"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:18 NIV)

Faith is the puzzle piece that completes us in Christ and brings us total peace as we trust in Him.

My Pleasure,

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

McKinsey's Story - Piecing It All Together, Part 1

(McKinsey and me, 2013 at Madison and Tanna's high school graduation party)

Tragedy, loss, missing piece, tears, hurt, sadness, shock, reality, joy, celebration, goodness, strength, grace, love, mercy, legacy...

So many words are swimming around in my head that it's difficult to put them into coherent verbiage, and the toughest of thoughts to grasp is the reality that McKinsey will never grace our home again in physical form. She will never again come bouncing in the door with that infectious laugh and happy heart. She will never leave the girls upstairs doing their thing and come sit on our couch just to talk with Rick and me (or as Kinsey called us, Twig and Mel). This is hard. So very hard.

(McKinsey and Madison after her mom and I had rolled hair for a cheerleading competition)

(McKinsey and Madison at the SC State Fair)

My daughter, Madison, befriended the new girl, McKinsey, in Ms. Power's third grade class. The first time I met McKinsey Cook, she cozied up to my heart and I tucked her into a little nook - a unique place where I was always aware of her and her need for Christ. I loved her like my own.

Although God had created her with a contagious smile, a perky personality, and a zest for life, she was still missing something greater than herself to complete her - Jesus Christ. So, for the next 11 years, I found myself reaching out to her in many different ways to show her the love of Jesus.  

During her junior year in High School, she decided to graduate early and not with her class. So, a year earlier than her friends, in the fall of 2012, she left for the University of Louisville. I was heart broken. I purchased her a new Bible, wrapped it up, and dropped it off to her at her house. I just couldn't let her leave without one more attempt. 

Little did I know that she would return one year later only to attend another school in the upstate. There she goes again. Now what?

Finally, she made her way back to Columbia before that school year was over, and was home again and hanging out with the Shull "fam". Soon after, she met Jesus Christ in a very personal way. Next, she was baptized, and our family was invited to experience that with her. Madison and I organized a spiritual birthday party for her, and two other friends of Madison's that summer. I made her favorite dish (my secret spaghetti recipe). We couldn't have been more thrilled!

(McKinsey's Baptism)

(The Shull fam and McKinsey)

(McKinsey and her mom, Amy)

(Spiritual birthday party: Madison, McKinsey, and Maclane)

Why did God draw me to Kinsey all those years ago and give her such a special place in my heart? I believe it was because He knew I would be burdened for her and He knew how many days He had ordained for her to live.

The last two years of her life have been all about Jesus and giving Him glory. She was one passionate young woman who understood the seriousness of living life to the full every single day and sharing the love of Christ with everyone she knew. She had led her small group of young girls to Christ. She had gone on a mission trip to Uganda and had fallen in love with ministering to the street boys. She had settled on finishing her nursing degree and then moving to Uganda as a full-time missionary. 

Wow! God never ceases to amaze me!

On February 2, 2015, in the blink of an eye, through a single car crash, 20 year old McKinsey Rebecca Cook ran with all of her might into the arms of her Savior, Jesus Christ. The One who completed her. The One she loved the most and trusted. The One she wanted everyone to know, love and live for like she did. Her strong faith is now sight!

My Pleasure,